Louis Moinet watches begin with the man who invented them. Born in Bourges, France, in the late 18th century, Moinet enjoyed the fruits of his farming family before distinguishing himself as an intellectual and academic. Initially ruled less by mathematics and science than the arts, Moinet proved an accomplished sculptor, painter and horologist, eventually devoting himself to a master watchmaker.
A polymath who saw nature, the arts and industry as significant to the cultivation of modern society, Moinet first studied architecture, sculpture and painting in his 20s when he left France for Rome. He studied at the French Academy and related institutions before moving to Florence, where he concentrated on painting, producing works of accomplished beauty. All of this served him well upon his return to Paris, where he was made Professor of Fine Arts at the Louvre, and from where he would eventually come to devote his attention to watchmaking.
Reacquainting himself with his French master, Moinet quickly established himself as a leading watchmaker, spending extended periods of time in Switzerland. He was later appointed President of the Chronometry Society in Paris, where the science of accurate time keeping was developed. It was here that the Frenchman met Swiss horologist and watchmaker Abraham-Louis Breguet, who would become Moinet’s partner in the pursuit of the perfect timepiece, until Breguet’s death in 1823.
Moinet’s accolades include publishing Traite d’Horlogerie, the watchmaking encyclopedia first produced in 1848. Recalling an early interest in drawing, Moinet laboured over the illustrations, with the intention that it would become the most significant reference book of its time. More famously, Moinet was to invent a sensational instrument, a wristwatch capable of displaying 60ths of a second. This stood alongside his chronograph, which first combined the stopwatch with a regular timepiece, as his key contribution to watchmaking.
Such was his notoriety that Moinet would go on to make select watches for famous historical figures including Napoleon Bonaparte, Tsar Alexander I, King George IV of England and American presidents Thomas Jefferson and James Monroe.
“Louis Moinet was considered as one of a most important watch makers that ever lived when he was alive,” says Jean-Marie Schaller, CEO and creative director of Louis Moinet. “He was very humble. He was very creative. He was always special, but after he passed away, because he was a very humble man, all his work was forgotten. The second part of Louis Moinet, the resurrection, comes in 2003. We have created a small company that is called Les Ateliers Louis Moinet to promote his name again.”
As a tribute to his achievements, Moinet’s watches are currently on display at the Louvre, the Château de Versailles and Florence’s Palazzo Pitti – a fitting epitaph to a man who dedicated the majority of his life to the advancement of accurate time keeping.
A version of this article appeared in print in Selections, The One to Watch Issue #40, pages 132-133.